Top 12 Groundhog Days
It’s all just a little bit of history repeating in our rundown of the best never-ending days on TV and film
Feel like you’ve read this feature before? Maybe you have. Maybe you’ve read it a thousand times without even knowing (the horror…), because the key to every good “groundhog day” story is that only one or two people are in on the timey-wimey madness, while the rest of us go on our merry way oblivious to the endless loop we’re living.
The characters in every one of these time loop tales – whether by magic, technology or inexplicable circumstance – are forced to relive the same events over and over again until the cycle is broken, often learning a few things about themselves along the way. It’s a premise which powers Duncan Jones’ latest film Source Code, out on DVD and Blu-ray today. If you haven’t heard, it’s rather good, so to celebrate we’re counting down our other favourite trial and error tales from TV and film.
By Jordan Farley
1990 (short film)
Whoa, déjà Vu: Myron Castleman (RoboCop’s Kurtwood Smith) is forced to endlessly cross over the same stretch of road, eat carrot sticks in the park and deal with the most irritating secretary in the world. Grim.
How is the loop broken? It isn’t, not in the short film at least where Castleman tries to top himself after learning he’s doomed to repeat the same 59 minutes over and over again, only to wake up back where he started.
Based on a 1973 Richard A Lupoff short story, the austere 30-minute Showtime channel short 12:01 is considered the first “groundhog day” type tale – so much so that the makers brought legal action against the team behind Groundhog Day, before later dropping the case. The similarities are more evident with the feature length TV movie made three years later, however – another adaptation of the same short story which features a much more upbeat ending.
12:01, you see, is pure Twilight Zone with everyday bub Castleman the only person aware that the entire world is eternally repeating the same lunch hour from 12:01 to 13:00. Despite contacting a scientist who predicted the event, Castleman discovers he’s totally powerless to change his fate, even by painting a window with his brains. Bleak just doesn’t cut it.
11. Farscape “Back And Back And Back To The Future”
2010 (Season 2, Episode 18)
Whoa, déjà vu: An alien scientist called Matala kills crew members left, right and centre and Crichton repeatedly breaks Zhaan’s mask.
How is the loop broken? They Starburst away, destroying Matala and the disguised Scorvian vessel.
“Back And Back And Back To The Future” is slightly different to the other entries on this list in the fact that Crichton experiences brief visions of the future, which he can live through and alter, as opposed to a repeating time loop. His visions of the future are frequently quite shocking (including the sudden deaths of most crew members), but none more so than his first vision – a twisted sexual fantasy with Matala. Creepy.
10. Xena: Warrior Princess “Been There, Done That”
2010 (Season 2, Episode 18)
Whoa, déjà vu: The rooster crows, Joxer walks in, the horse shoe falls, Joxer drops his goose eggs… and lots of people die.
How is the loop broken? Xena makes a miracle shot, bouncing her chakram all round town, and breaking the vial of nightsbane poison before it can be used by the cupid-cursed lover.
Often, the best thing about time loop tales such as “Been There, Done That” is seeing things which would never usually happen in the normal course of a season. Here, for example, Joxer getting a chakram through his ribcage. Is it wrong that we let out a little cheer?
Gratuitous murders aside this is one of the show’s better episodes, with a mystery that’s pure Romeo And Juliet and a nice mix of typically goofy humour and high drama. Xena’s method for destroying the vial, in particular, is pleasingly silly. Fun fact: keep a close eye on the Inn’s sign for hints at what’s to come.